As a woman who works in automotive publishing, an industry where men far outnumber women, it’s easy to feel like an underdog—I compare the experience to feeling like a freshman who mistakenly staggers into a classroom full of seniors on the first day of high school. And can you imagine what it’s like to be the only female participant among dozens of drivers at a track day, where testosterone and bragging rights become even more prominent parts of the equation? I’ve been said female a number of times, so any track day with a higher percentage of women would promise a refreshing change of pace. But one actually completely geared toward women? Bring it on.
Accelerating Change: Women’s Track Day at Buttonwillow Raceway Park in California was organized to offer just such an opportunity—and to celebrate International Women’s Day—by a group of prominent women from the automotive world, including Porsche Club of America Los Angeles Region president Mariana Small, three-time international racing champion Christina Nielsen, and creator of FastGirls Paulina Michaels. The program required no prior track experience and was designed to encourage women of all abilities to get on the track and build confidence in their driving. Said Michaels, “Our goal is to create a fun, female-friendly event where women feel empowered to learn more about cars, get comfortable with driving fast, and ultimately get behind the wheel of a high-performance Porsche vehicle.”
Porsche Fresno and Michelin sponsored the event, making it possible for participants to get on track for a fraction of the normal cost, and that the Accelerating Change organizing staff and instructors were volunteers also helped keep costs low. The official hosting bodies were multiple regions of the Porsche Club of America, but it wasn’t exclusive to Porsche owners; so long as they passed inspection, all makes and models—except minivans and sedans—were welcome to hit the track, which granted my sizzling red 2019 Toyota 86 press car an invitation to join the party. That said, there was an impressive turnout of Porsches and BMWs, including a customized 911 owned by female race driver Martina Kwan. A total of 45 drivers participated in the inaugural event—likely setting a record for most women ever to drive at Buttonwillow at once—and additional support staff included a mechanic on standby and a female tire expert from Michelin on site to assist participants with their tire pressures.
By my own admission, I haven’t particularly enjoyed the track driving I’ve done, and I’m still learning to embrace its highly technical nature. (Given the track-day opportunities in this industry, that’s probably a good idea.) As at most track days, the drivers were split into groups according to experience to keep everyone comfortable, and we got down to business right away. When my group was called, I put on my helmet and strapped myself into the passenger seat of the 86 for some demo laps with an instructor driving.
The track layout and the instructor’s tips in mind, I took the wheel, but even with prior experience, my nerves got the best of me and I managed to collect a good amount of mud as I almost went four wheels off as I exited the long Sweeper corner and entered the Esses portion of the track. I managed to gather up the car, though, and soldiered on as if nothing had happened. With both windows rolled down, the only words I could hear from my instructor over the buffeting wind and protesting tires were this: “You’re a really good driver, but you are all over the place.” Sounds about right.
After a few laps, I switched from driver to observer and watched everyone drive like they might not ever have this opportunity again. I was most inspired by a young woman—she goes by Rosie Rocks—who showed up in a 2018 Nissan GT-R Track Edition equipped with adaptive hand controls. She had no prior track experience, and her bravery in getting out there was not only badass but also really empowering to see.
The Accelerating Change program was absolutely special and unlike any other track event that I’ve attended. Although it may not have turned me into a full-fledged track junkie—I’m getting there—I’m more than grateful to have had the opportunity to strap on a helmet alongside so many strong, confident, and inspiring drivers.